Aristotle and our American oligarchy
There is only one explanation for the continued presence of thousands of soldiers in the Capitol: the transition of the United States from a constitutional republic to an oligarchy. What oligarchs fear most is this Demos, the common people who historically rebelled against the rule of selfish elites. The oligarchs must surround the Capitol with troops to remind the plebeians that their brief 2016 insurrection will not succeed again and that they will be crushed.
Aristotle saw oligarchy as a deviant form of rule that tended to emerge when the elites became corrupt and no longer interested in the common good, but only in enriching themselves. This seems like a pretty accurate description of our elites. I am not alone in making this observation lately. The claim that America is now an oligarchy is not new; It has been done by many commentators including here, here, and here.
Indeed, it is almost old hat to say that the United States is simply no longer a functioning constitutional republic. It is obvious that the rich have a disproportionate influence on our politics. When the nation goes to war or funds the government through a huge ongoing resolution, the elected officials in Congress have very little influence.
What has been neglected is that the transition to oligarchy is very dangerous. In Book V of politicsAristotle warns that oligarchies are very unstable forms of government. “Mixed” regimes, in which the middle class has some political power, are far more stable, says Aristotle. Aristotle’s advice to the oligarchs is not to rely on political means, which were only invented to deceive people, because experience has shown them to be useless. In short, don’t lie because it doesn’t work.
Our oligarchs have not followed Aristotle’s advice – how many are still reading it? – and spawned numerous great lies over the past few decades to justify their actions.
In 2003 the Bush administration informed us that America’s sons and daughters would have to invade Iraq, otherwise we could all be evaporated under a “mushroom cloud”. Then, when our brave warriors failed to find weapons of mass destruction – and endured the meat grinder of war – we were regularly told that victory was imminent. The same deception applies to Afghanistan. The oligarchs and their servants emerged better from the wars: Paul Wolfowitz continued to run the World Bank; David Petraeus ended up with private equity giant KKR; and the defense corporations thrived with the help of retired wartime generals who now sit on their boards. For the 35,000 working families of Americans who were killed or wounded, the wars were tragic.
A few years later came the 2008 financial crisis. We know what caused it. Politicians from both parties urged banks to provide mortgages to beneficiary groups, even though many were financially unable to pay them. At the same time, the banks took opposing positions on these toxic mortgages: their economists warned of financial disaster while their sales departments converted the toxic mortgages into securities and sold them. When the inevitable collapse happened, politicians who had joined the oligarchs rushed to bail out the banks. The banks could then continue their bipartisan contributions to the politicians who built the bailout – a vicious circle of growing oligarchy.
The 2008 Bush bailouts were a defining event in modern American politics when millions whose lives were severely affected by distant elites rigging the game. For the middle class, thousands lost their homes and thousands more saw the value of their homes collapse. The oligarchs told people that these difficulties were only part of the business cycle; Things rise and fall – the kind of explanation Aristotle would say is meant to “deceive people” but is politically “useless” because it does not convince anyone.
After the bailouts, Barack Obama came. Like many Democratic leaders, Obama claimed to be a working class advocate. He was a quintessentially oligarchical politician indeed: Ivy League, bred, celebrated by Hollywood, regular in the vineyard, supporter of the 2008 bailouts, showered with Wall Street money, and disdainful of working class “supporters” with their guns and religion .
Obama’s ideological progressivism also terrified many. A bourgeois backlash came in the form of the Tea Party. The oligarchs did not want any part of this friction; So the IRS was immediately armed against them. Lois Lerner, the IRS agent who so effectively undermined the Tea Party, retired with a full federal pension. A few years later, the Obama Justice Department issued a statement stating that no evidence of a political motive for the kneecap of tea party groups was found – an obvious lie.
During the Obama presidency Fox News I took up the fact that people don’t like to be lied to, and they have played every scandal in which the administration seemed to lie: Fast and Furious, Benghazi, Hillary’s email server: “If you like your health plan, you can They keep your health plan “etc. As Aristotle might have expected in an oligarchy, Fox News achieved blockbuster ratings when their daily topic was: What lies are the establishment telling people today? It can be left to the reader to decide which scandal was serious, which sin was fatal, and whether the Obama administration lied more outrageously than the Bush administration. Suffice it to say, many working class Americans believed that their elites were serial liars.
Then, just then, Donald Trump went down the escalator. Aristotle wrote that if people believe they are ruled by a corrupt oligarchy, “everyone is good enough to be its champion.” President Trump can be described as a vulgar, narcissistic and indecent leader and even a demagogue, but the people who sought an advocate against the corrupt establishment greeted him feverishly. Trump’s message resonated for expressing ills that had been ignored or deliberately caused by the oligarchical establishment: undermining production, falling working class wages, runaway illegal immigration, enormous income disparities, destruction of sacred national symbols, and endless wars. Trump didn’t solve these problems, but he was a genius at blaming the oligarchs and undermining their legitimacy.
With Trump, it became clear to many Americans that the residents of the institutions of oligarchic America – media, universities, entertainment, politics, and business – have rigged the game for themselves and live in a wealthy bubble. Even before Trump won the presidential nomination, the oligarchic establishment was trying to undermine his movement. They illegally monitored him and his campaign in the hope of catching him negotiating with the Russians. We’ve all seen the never-ending Mueller Inquiry into “Show me the man and I’ll find the crime.” Finally there was the stupid Adam Schiff and the farcical impeachment. Many fabricated falsehoods as well as selective leaks of classified information would find their way into Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post. As with Lois Lerner, no one who did the dirty work for the oligarchs was punished for the illegality framing Trump. His followers, feeling they finally had a leader to fight for them, took it personally.
The last shoe to be dropped was the pandemic, and it was dropped on the necks of the working class and small business owners. While the Californian oligarchs ate without a mask in The French Laundry, they smashed hundreds of thousands of mom and pop restaurants. As oligarchs fled the cities from their second homes in the Hamptons with Zoom, the working class put on their masks and went to work at the warehouse, hospital, and grocery store (if they kept their jobs at all). During the pandemic, oligarchs’ collective wealth grew by $ 931 billion, while middle class unemployment broke records.
Then came the 2020 election. Only thorough research can determine whether Trump’s savage allegations of election corruption are true, but given the reckless behavior of the oligarchical establishment during Trump’s presidency, the deep suspicions of Trump’s supporters are understandable. The belief that the election was stolen, which Trump ruthlessly encouraged, became the last straw. It went on to the Capitol.
The oligarchs’ strategy was to use the ugly protests to justify annihilating the deplorable people once and for all. First cut off Trump from social media, separate him from his supporters and try at all costs to prevent his return with a second impeachment. Banana republic-style law enforcement will follow next. Put them on no-fly lists for his supporters, fire them from their jobs, and start a CCP-style social credit system. Throw the full weight of federal law enforcement against the Trump protesters and starting this summer allow the violent left rioters to avoid punishment for enjoying both financial and moral support from the oligarchs.
The oligarchs will assume that their political dominance is now permanent, given their trusted partnerships with American corporations, Silicon Valley, the mainstream media and the FBI. They don’t seem to notice the simmering anger this consolidation of power will arouse.
As Aristotle would have predicted, the volatility of our politics is increasingly driven by clashes between the oligarch-controlled institutions and workers who view elites with contempt and do not share their awakened cultural, religious and philosophical views. We are entering what historian Michael Vlahos threateningly calls the “cycle of revenge” in politics. We are no longer looking for compromises and similarities. Now politics is about destroying your opponents as a warring army would force an unconditional surrender.
Historically, the leaders of populist revolutions have tended to be more extreme and the masses more radical, no less. This is especially true when the ruling elites are slow to acknowledge the abuses of the working class, as was the case in pre-revolutionary France and Russia and as they are now in the United States.
Like many elites, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to notice the powder keg he’s sitting on. If he continues to ignore working class grievances and simply be a mouthpiece for the oligarchy, Aristotle would say our country is on the wrong track.
William S. Smith is Senior Research Fellow and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America. His most recent book is Democracy and imperialismfrom the University of Michigan Press.
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